Last month DeSantis, a Republican, issued an executive order requiring the state’s health and education departments to create rules preventing local school mask mandates. Several lawsuits have since been filed challenging the constitutionality of the executive order.
Some school districts are considering mask mandates and at least one has said masks will be required unless the parents opt out.
A statement from the governor’s office on Monday says the state board of education “could move to withhold the salary of the district superintendent or school board members.”
The statement says one of DeSantis’ priorities is to protect parents’ rights.
“I think the fairest thing to do is just say let parents make the decisions,” DeSantis said last week at an event at a Tampa hospital.
A GOP senator from Louisiana said Sunday he disagrees with DeSantis’ ban on local school officials imposing mask mandates.
“The local official should have control here. I don’t want top down from Washington, DC. I don’t want top down from a governor’s office,” Sen. Bill Cassidy, who is also a physician, told CNN’s Dana Bash.
“When it comes to local conditions, if my hospital is full and my vaccination rate is low and infection rate is going crazy, we should allow local officials to make those decisions best for their community,” he added.
The Florida Democratic Party on Monday addressed DeSantis’ stance while referring to Cassidy’s comments.
“Gov. DeSantis, if you won’t listen to pleas from worried parents, students and children from across Florida, will you at least listen to physician and GOP Senator @BillCassidy? Local school boards should decide on public health measures, not Tallahassee,” it tweeted.
Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that DeSantis’ position and the similar one of Texas Gov. Gregg Abbott are “so self-defeating.”
Hotez said that heath officials have seen a sharp rise in children being hospitalized.
“And for the first time that I can remember since the start of this pandemic, we’re seeing kids in pediatric intensive care units in large numbers to the point where even pediatric intensive care units are getting overwhelmed,” he said.
That can be attributed in part to another respiratory virus, but a lot of it is Covid-19 as well, he said.
“If we’re already seeing Covid-19 pediatric ICU admissions in children’s hospitalizations before school’s open, what’s going to happen after that?” he said. “Schools are going to be an accelerant for this if we don’t have all of those kids masked.”
DeSantis’ executive order says school mask guidance from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “lacks a well-grounded scientific justification.”
Mask mandates considered
The superintendent of Miami-Dade Public Schools said Sunday he hopes to reopen schools in two weeks with masking in place while avoiding the governor’s punitive funding threats. The district is Florida’s largest public school system.
“We hope to be able to negotiate a reopening of schools with protocols that number one, provide protection for our students with masks, while simultaneously avoiding financial consequences, perhaps allowing some degree of parental opt-out provisions,” Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation.“
Carvalho decried the politicization of the pandemic and said the district has been guided by science and the advice of medical experts when creating its Covid-19 protocols.
“It is sad that currently in America we see this rhetorical narrative that is deeply influenced by politics rather than medicine and the wide advice by those who know best what’s in the best interest of our students and the professionals who teach them,” he said.
Hillsborough County Public Schools will require face coverings, but Superintendent Addison Davis said Sunday that parents can opt their children out. Classes start Tuesday.
Orange County Public Schools issued a mask mandate for the upcoming school year, according to a press release issued by the district late Friday. Orange County is home to Orlando.
A surge of cases in the Sunshine State
Florida is seeing a dramatic surge in Covid-19 cases. The state reported 134,506 new Covid-19 cases over the past week on Friday, more than any other seven-day period during the pandemic.
And the average number of new daily cases in Florida over the past two weeks is 107% higher than the prior two-week period, according to data on Monday from Johns Hopkins University.
The state on Sunday reported 13,596 new Covid-19 cases among children younger than 12 years old last week, according to data from the Florida Department of Health (DOH).
There were 10,585 new cases for the age group reported the previous week, ending July 29, DOH data shows.
With many Florida children headed back to school this week, the current new case positivity rate for children under 12 is 20.5%, which is higher than the overall state new case positivity rate of 18.9%, according to DOH weekly reports.
The new case positivity rate for the 12-19 age group is 24.3%, according to DOH data released Friday.